One of the greatest challenges in developing the robotic MRI surgeon was the need to bypass the MRI’s strong magnetic sensitivity. Metals are unsafe in MRIs because the machine relies on strong magnets, and electric currents distort the MRI image.
The Johns Hopkins team used six of the motors to power the first-ever MRI-compatible robot to access the prostate gland. The motors are so accurate when controlled by the computer that their movements are steadier and more precise than any human hand.
The Johns Hopkins researchers explain that prostate cancer is tricky because it can only be seen under MRI, and in early stages it can be quite small and easy to miss. The new Johns Hopkins robot, dubbed PneuStep, consists of three pistons connected to a series of gears. The gears are turned by air flow, which is in turn controlled by a computer located in a room adjacent to the MRI machine. The PneuStep can achieve precise and smooth motion up to 50 micrometers, finer than a human hair and well above that of a human surgeon.
The PneuStep is currently undergoing preclinical testing but the researchers are optimistic regarding the future of such devices to revolutionize the future of surgery allowing physicians to use instruments in ways that are currently not possible.
More information regarding the PneuStep can be found on the Johns Hopkins website.